Manchester By The Sea

DIR. KENNETH LONERGAN, 2016

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea steers a heart-wrenching course that convincingly – and thankfully – avoids foundering on the rocks of melodrama or running aground as a lazy grief-by-numbers drama.

For this a huge debt is owed to cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes and editor Jennifer Lame. Working as it does with Massachusetts scenery and an extensive use of flashback to flesh out both the narrative and the protagonist’s torment, this indie film reminds me of the way martial arts action films used flashback so relentlessly in the 80s and 90s, themselves drawing on the classic noirs of the 40s.

In the earlier films, though, flashbacks most often explained the protagonist’s actions. In Manchester By The Sea, in contrast, flashbacks are served up far more choppily, with some very bold, blunt editing. While they still give insight into motives and emotions, they offer tentative explanations for protagonist Lee Chandler’s inaction, rather than for his actions.

The emotional impact of this is most pronounced in the sequence at his lawyer’s desk, during which so much is revealed in flashbacks, while Lee himself (Casey Affleck) barely seems to breathe. Along with the last interaction we see between Lee and ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), these are intensely powerful moments, and in neither case is Lee truly able to speak.

The inadequacy of words is another element that helps steer the film away from overworked dramatic templates. His beloved brother tries to help ‘heal’ Lee from beyond the grave via the words in his will, while Patrick, Lee’s nephew, might be expected to narratively ‘heal’ Lee. Similarly with Randi. But the film, without losing sight of love and humour, rejects these paths, even as Lee is able to acknowledge his limitations and make some compromises.

Like Jackie, Manchester By The Sea relies on aural and visual, truly filmic devices, not words, to communicate the always-present impact of past events and ongoing emotions on individuals who’ve lost loved ones in particularly traumatic circumstances. Despite their many differences, both films represent a sadness that is, for Lee Chandler at least, quite literally unspeakable.

Samantha Holland

JACKIE

DIR. PABLO LARRAÍN, 2016

Jackie is an interesting film. It’s not about the life and times of Jackie Kennedy as she was then, but rather a reflection on loss, bereavement and the treatment of women in the 60s.

Natalie Portman plays Jackie with great candour and humility. Her voice in particular is incredible. She creates a staccato which I found irritating at first, but as time progresses settles and becomes part of the enjoyment of the film. Structured around a newspaper interview with Jackie after the assassination of John F Kennedy, the film reflects on the four days following the event. The interviewer has met her before, and we get beautiful shots of a film he made with her about the White House and the renovations she had done. The old footage used is incredible and very much of its day.

But Jackie’s story of the assassination and the events that followed are at the core of this film. She’s shown striving against the White House male elite to bury her husband as she wishes and give him the send-off she wants. We see episodes of sheer vulnerability and what would now be classed as PTSD symptoms coming through, but these are brushed aside by the people around her.

In one scene, she drinks, takes drugs, changes her clothes and dances in her own time, world and space. In this way, she settles into her own private grief. The result is truly touching and a reflection of the darkness she is feeling. John Hurt plays her priest, who helps her through her losses. In the end she has faced five losses in a short space of time, including her role as first lady.

The final scene, where Jackie drives past several shops with mannequins sporting the ‘Jackie look’, reflects and reinforces the sad state of affairs that Jackie Kennedy is still remembered more for her clothes than for being the woman who witnessed the dreadful events of the time and suffered the horror of having “held his brains in my hands”.

Diana Gibson